British Telecommunications (BT) claims it owns the patent to hyperlinks and wants ISPs in the US to cough up hard cash for the privilege of using them.
The monster telco believes a patent filed in 1976 - and granted in 1989 - proves it owns the intellectual property rights to those natty little devices that link Web content together.
The patent was lodged following work on text-based online information systems Viewdata and Prestel by the General Post Office (GPO) before it was split into the Post Office and BT.
BT believes it has a good case and has employed intellectual property experts, Scipher PLC, to fight its corner.
Dr Ken Gray, chairman of Scipher, told AFX: "On behalf of BT we are attempting to licence (hyperlink technology), and inviting licences to be taken out by ISPs in the States."
A spokesman for BT said: "We patented the principle of the hyperlink in the mid-70s when people were still wearing kipper ties and flares."
He said the company was only going to pursue ISPs and not individual users.
According to patent 4,873,662 BT might be on to something.
The short abstract about the "Hidden Page" patent reads: "Information for display at a terminal apparatus of a computer is stored in blocks the first part of which contains the information which is actually displayed at the terminal and the second part of which contains information relating to the display and which may be used to influence the display at the time or in response to a keyboard entry signal.
"For example, the second part of the block could include information for providing the complete address of an another block which would be selected by the operation of a selected key of the keyboard. The second part of the block could alternatively influence the format and/or color of the display at the terminal.
"When a block is read from the store of the computer the second part is retained in another store which may be located in the terminal or in the computer itself or perhaps both. The invention is particularly useful in reducing the complexity of the operating protocol of the computer."
Shame whoever wrote this didn't "reduce the complexity" of their definition.
If the claim is successful BT said it will invest the cash in R&D and its network. ®